'Chaos of emotions': Historic week in DC met with joy and tears after gun deal, Roe, Jan. 6 hearings

·7 min read

WASHINGTON – Friday morning, Congresswoman Madeleine Dean put on her orange sneakers and fastened an orange ribbon to her lapel, proudly wearing the color that symbolizes ending gun violence.

The Pennsylvania Democrat was excited to cast her vote for a bipartisan gun deal – a vote she calls the proudest of her life. A vote the mother and grandmother believed would save children's lives. Dean cried tears of joy at the thought of breaking a 30-year stagnation in public safety.

Her joy was short-lived.

Her pride was replaced with deep heartache at about 10:30 a.m. when the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision to overturn five decades of a legal precedent that guaranteed abortion rights.

"Now, we have a 50-year return to the dark ages," Dean said Friday afternoon during an interview with USA TODAY. "It has been a chaos of emotions."

The country and Capitol Hill are reeling after one of the most historic weeks in Washington saw two major Supreme Court rulings, the first consequential gun deal in three decades, and revealing investigations on the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and accusations of attempts to corrupt the Justice Department.

It's a week that has underscored Donald Trump's lasting legacy and impact on the country, continuing the polarization and division that became a feature – not a bug – of his time in office and after he lost the election.

The impact of Trump's conservative Supreme Court picks was evident in Dean's office, where some staffers cried about Roe being overturned.

"I'm a woman past the age of worrying about having children," the 63-year-old Dean said. "But my whole team is young and wants autonomy. They do not want to be told by old, mostly white men, that we will force pregnancies on you."

What's next: Where the abortion fight goes from here: Roe overruled, but the battle will continue

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., greets Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, left, as Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Penn., hugs Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., right, after the passage of the gun safety bill in the House, at the Capitol in Washington on Friday.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., greets Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, left, as Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Penn., hugs Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., right, after the passage of the gun safety bill in the House, at the Capitol in Washington on Friday.

'Personally overwhelmed'

There was joy inside the Capitol Thursday night.

Cheers echoed as senators passed a bipartisan gun deal for the first time in nearly 30 years. Lawmakers who negotiated for nearly two months – even when the deal was on the verge of collapse a week ago – hugged and shook hands on the chamber floor. Gun safety advocates and those who lost loved ones to gun violence smiled through tears as the reform they've called for, fought for and begged for finally made it through an often gridlocked Senate.

On Friday morning, the mood shifted.

Dean and other lawmakers expected the cheerful scenario from Thursday night to repeat in the House, as lawmakers prepared to begin their two-week recess with a good feeling of bipartisanship.

Those hopes were quickly replaced with heartbreak.

The emotional whiplash was perhaps best captured by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said she was "personally overwhelmed" by the Roe decision, started her weekly press conference this way: "There's no point in saying good morning because it certainly is not."

Democrats in Congress will fight "ferociously" to codify Roe v. Wade into the law of the land, she said, but there didn't seem to be much fight in the Capitol.

Melancholy filled the Capitol instead, with several staffers crying and expressing disbelief that the constitutional right to an abortion had been overturned.

Though the decision had been expected since a May leak revealed a draft opinion, it was no less impactful when a conservative majority issued their decision to reverse 50 years of legal precedent.

And it wasn't just Democrats.

Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine who cast a decisive vote in confirming the justices who gave the Supreme Court a conservative majority, said the Roe decision is “inconsistent” with what Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh said during their Senate confirmation hearings.

“This decision is inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon,” she said in a statement Friday.

“Throwing out a precedent overnight that the country has relied upon for half a century is not conservative,” she added. “It is a sudden and radical jolt to the country that will lead to political chaos, anger, and a further loss of confidence in our government.”

What does overturning Roe mean?: What we know about the Supreme Court's abortion ruling.

A tale of two victories

Within hours of the Roe decision, Democrats and Republicans claimed different victories.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy called the Roe decision "a victory" because "the right to life has been vindicated."

"The voiceless finally have a voice," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the architect of Trump's three appointments of Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, said the high court's landmark ruling was "courageous and correct."

"This is an historic victory for the Constitution and for the most vulnerable in our society," he said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., left, talks with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio,  during the vote for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in the House Chamber on Friday in Washington. The congressmen voted against the legislation, the first new gun regulations passed by Congress in more than 30 years, passed by a vote of 234-193.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., left, talks with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, during the vote for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in the House Chamber on Friday in Washington. The congressmen voted against the legislation, the first new gun regulations passed by Congress in more than 30 years, passed by a vote of 234-193.

Meanwhile, Democrats were preparing to claim victory on the gun deal that the House passed Friday and sent to President Joe Biden to sign into law.

But that celebration was muted by the Roe decision. It even changed the debate on the bill.

The block of time that was originally reserved for the gun bill debate in the House ended up being used for lawmakers to condemn or condone the Supreme Court ruling.

"What a great day for the babies," Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Wis., said before casting a no vote on the gun bill.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said he found it difficult to not address the ruling.

Nadler said Associate Justice Clarence Thomas' concurring opinion showed this is "just the beginning of a radical, right-wing effort to roll back other rights, including the right to contraception, the right to marry whomever we choose and the fundamental right to privacy."

The Thomas opinion: Clarence Thomas calls for Supreme Court to 'reconsider' gay marriage, contraception after Roe v. Wade falls

A fragile democracy

The inflamed debates over gun rights – including a Supreme Court ruling earlier this week that made it easier to carry handguns – and abortion rights were set against a backdrop of the Jan. 6 hearings.

Themes this week centered on Trump's pressure campaign on state officials, election workers and the Department of Justice, as well as five members of Congress who sought presidential pardons.

When hearings resume in July, "we're going to show how Donald Trump tapped into the threat of violence, how he summoned the mob to Washington, and how after corruption and political pressure failed to keep Donald Trump in office, violence became the last option," House committee Chair Bennie Thompson said.

Lawmakers have said their concern is not only what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, but what could happen again. The fate of the republic – democracy itself – is still at risk, they said.

The hearings have added to the stress and emotional roller coaster on Capitol Hill.

As Collins noted in her statement after the Roe decision, "The Supreme Court has abandoned a 50-year precedent at a time that the country is desperate for stability. This ill-considered action will further divide the country at a moment when, more than ever in modern times, we need the Court to show both consistency and restraint."

The fight ahead

Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Penn., listens as the House Judiciary Committee holds an emergency meeting to advance a series of Democratic gun control measures, called the Protecting Our Kids Act, in response to mass shootings in Texas and New York, at the Capitol in Washington on June 2.
Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Penn., listens as the House Judiciary Committee holds an emergency meeting to advance a series of Democratic gun control measures, called the Protecting Our Kids Act, in response to mass shootings in Texas and New York, at the Capitol in Washington on June 2.

Lawmakers left the Capitol Friday for a two-week recess around the July 4 holiday, but Dean knows the chaos of emotions will be there when they return.

House Democrats will be pushing for more gun reform, which is already doomed in the Senate.

There's outstanding work on prescription drug costs, a fight for abortion rights and pressure to have accomplishments to take to voters before the November midterm elections/.

House Republicans, who anticipate winning back control of their chamber this fall, are already planning to pass a 15-week abortion ban after the Roe ruling.

The Supreme Court decision and bipartisan gun deal give Dean some hope that Congress can codify Roe.

A bipartisan group of Senators, including Collins and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have already said they would vote to make Roe v. Wade law.

Until then, Dean is going to try and focus on the positive. She's a Catholic, but she's clinging to Jewish scripture that says to save a single life is to save the whole universe.

"I'll take the good," Dean said. "We passed this gun bill, and that's a momentous first step."

'New era' or 'dark day'?: Americans divided as they react to Supreme Court overturning Roe.

Candy Woodall is a Congress reporter for USA TODAY. She can be reached at cwoodall@usatoday.com or on Twitter at @candynotcandace.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gun deal, Jan. 6 hearings, Roe prompt tears, joy in chaotic Capitol

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